The National Restaurant Association (NRA) released its annual State of the Restaurant Industry Report, estimating that restaurant sales will exceed $1.1 trillion by the end of 2024. If so, it will be the first time sales from the nation’s second-largest private industry will tip into the trillions, said Nation’s Restaurant News.
Last year, the foodservice industry forecast was $997 billion, while the pre-pandemic forecast from 2019 was about $863 billion. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, much of these sales have been driven largely by pricing; menu prices peaked at an 8.8% year-over-year increase in March 2023, but have since started to cool a bit and were 5.2% higher in December.
“Restaurants are finding ways to adapt to the challenges of increased food costs and supply chain disruption,” said Michelle Korsmo, president and chief executive officer of the NRA. “Restaurants have responded well to customers' desire to have more opportunities to enjoy restaurant meals, which continues to grow sales, create employment opportunities and foster a strong sense of community.”
Demand for restaurants is high, particularly among younger consumers. Fifty-two percent–including 67% of millennials and 63% of Gen Z adults–say ordering takeout from a restaurant is an “essential part of their lifestyle,” meaning pricing isn’t the only driver, said Nation’s Restaurant News.
The NRA also is expected to employ 15.7 million people—with room to grow. Forty-five percent of restaurant operators report that they need more employees to meet consumer demand and a majority (70%) have job openings they say are hard to fill. The association expects the industry to add 150,000 jobs per year on average for the next eight years, with total staffing levels reaching 16.9 million by 2032.
“This latest research shows that over three out of five adults have worked in the restaurant industry and that is even higher for younger cohorts,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and knowledge group of the NRA. “As a result of that, younger consumers place a higher priority on spending at restaurants and deem them more essential than other generations.”
The report showed 60% of restaurant operators nationwide plan to make technology investments in 2024 to enhance the customer experience.
Another finding of the report showed off-premises dining continues to be popular. The NRA analysis showed 67% of millennials and 63% of Gen Z adults report that ordering restaurant takeout is an essential part of their lifestyle.
Meanwhile, customers are willing to be flexible to maximize value: 85% report that they are more flexible about when they dine if they receive a deal, and 75% report that they will opt for smaller portion sizes for a reduced price.